Former President George W. Bush will return to Washington, D.C., on February 24, to mark the 20th anniversary of PEPFAR, his worldwide humanitarian program to contain AIDS. File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Former President George W. Bush will return to Washington, D.C., later this month to mark the 20th anniversary of PEPFAR, his worldwide humanitarian program to contain AIDS, and to urge Congress to reauthorize it later this year.
Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will attend the Bush Institute event on Feb. 24, called PEPFAR at 20, to discuss the goal of ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
The former president will be joined by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the former president of Tanzania Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also speak virtually.
"PEPFAR is arguably the most successful U.S. foreign assistance program ever, having saved more than 25 million lives to date," said David Kramer, executive director of the Bush Institute.
To date, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has provided more than $100 billion to support antiretroviral treatment for 20.1 million people, saving lives around the world, according to the U.S. State Department which runs the program.
In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Joe Biden commended Bush for his work.
"He undertook a bipartisan effort through PEPFAR to transform the global fight against HIV/AIDS. It's been a huge success. He thought big. He thought large. He moved," Biden said as he urged Congress to do the same for cancer.
U2 singer Bono, who has worked to build support for PEPFAR, also attended Tuesday's State of the Union speech.
Twenty years ago, Bush proposed the program during his 2003 State of the Union address and promised $15 billion for five years to fight AIDS worldwide. Bush wanted to provide the antiretroviral treatment for HIV, which had been used in wealthy nations for seven years, to people in poorer nations including sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS was killing millions.
At the time, Bush's proposal was considered too ambitious, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and one of the lead members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As a rich nation, he felt that we had a moral responsibility not to have people dying from a disease that's treatable and preventable merely because of the lack of resources in the region in which they live," Fauci said, according to NBC News.
While Fauci had urged Bush to spend $500 million to provide antiretrovirals to treat and prevent the transmission of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, Bush wanted to spend much more.
"Many believed we should only do prevention and accept the premise that we could lose a generation of Africans," said Dr. Deborah Birx, who led PEPFAR from 2014 to 2021.
In addition to the estimated 25 million lives saved through PEPFAR, the State Department estimates the program has also helped 5.5 million babies to be born HIV-free.
"I would rank PEPFAR as right at the top of the things that I feel that, when I leave the world and think back about what I've done, that I feel good about," Fauci said as he commended Bush. "He's a man of incredible integrity, number one, and of phenomenal empathy for those throughout the world who are suffering."
"PEPFAR has strengthened health systems, emboldened democracies, supported economic growth and advanced progress on human rights," Kramer said. "Congress and the American people should continue to support PEPFAR until AIDS is no longer a threat."